“ A Lost Opportunity”: Colonel Jacint Laval & the U.S. Light Dragoons at Bladensburg, August 1814.

In March 1814 Colonel Jacint Laval (1762-1822) took command of the reorganized 1st Regiment of U.S. Light Dragoons at Carlisle, Pa., Since taking command Colonel Lavall had organized, equipped, instructed and mounted his new recruits, some still without horses. On 20 July he was ordered with his two troops of horse (130 men) to Washington leaving Carlisle, Pa., on August 15.  

The two captains under his command were Captains James A. Burd and William M. Littlejohn.  They reached Montgomery Courthouse on August 18 and were ordered by US Brigadier General William Winder to report to Brigadier General Tobias Stansbury of Maryland’s 11th Brigade from Baltimore. On August 20 at 10 a.m., Laval moved across the Eastern Branch Bridge SW of Washington towards Woodyard and Nottingham, Maryland to reconnoiter the advancing British troops under Maj. Gen. Robert Ross.

With the British pressing forward inlarge numbers  Colonel Laval and his troop re-crossed the bridge on August 23 at 11 p.m., much fatigue from counter-movements, hunger and the horses needing water. Like General Stansbury brigade they were maneuvering constantly for three days until returning to Bladensburg only four hours before the battle began.

Laval’s Own Words, the Battle of Bladensburg on 24 August 1814 – “My command consisted of two troops, incomplete, & making in all about one hundred & thirty men, newly mounted. We arrived at Bladensburg nearly at the same time with the enemy, my orders were to report to the General Commanding [William H. Winder], nothing further. My troops were assigned a station in a ravine, which from its crooked situation and depth, it required my leaving to see the enemy. I came out and sat on my horse on the top of the front bank with one of my officers, Lieutenant Brahm, watching an opportunity to dispose of the men to the best advantage. Shortly after, a confusion took place throughout the field, during which one of my captains, his officers and eighty men were disposed or otherwise without my knowledge. So that when I expected to be supported by my whole command, I found it reduced to abut 50 men, with Captain [James A.] Burd and his officers, in a disappointment equal to my situation. What I had planned for 130 men, could not be affected with 50, they nearly all recruits and mounted about 10 days. What could have been done with such a force, under such circumstances, I leave an impartial public to decide. They army had left us, we retreated in order, and arrived at the Capitol where we found not the army as expected….”

So it was that Col. Laval’s two troops of horse were never brought to bear upon the British at a crucial period of the battle – a timely misjudgment on the part of the general staff on the field and an opportunity lost.

Afterwards Lavall followed the Stansbury’s brigade back to Baltimore in time to actually engaged the British in a rear guard action on September 14, 1814 following their removal from Baltimore capturing several soldiers. On 31 October 1814 Lt. Colonel Laval’s dragoons saw their last Maryland action at the skirmish of Kirby’s Windmill, Anne Arundel County on 31 October 1814 in which 300 British Marines and seamen were forced to return to their barges and pull out to the safety of their ships in the bay.

After the war Laval held the post of military storekeeper at the Harpers Ferry Armory, Virginia from May 1821 until his death in 1822. He is buried in Shepherdstown, Jefferson County, (West) Virginia.

Sources: Jacint Laval was born in France and later served as a Cornet of Dragoons in the French army under General Jean-Baptist Rochambeau, Marshal of France in 1780-81 during the American Revolution at Yorktown, Va. Soon thereafter he became an American citizen and enlisted in the U.S. Regiment of Light Dragoons then being organized; 3 May 1809, captain; 15 February 1809, Major; 7 June 1813, lieutenant colonel, and finally colonel on 1 August 1813; Daily National Intelligencer (D.C.), April 24, 1816; “Capture of the City of Washington,” American State Papers, Military Affairs, 23 September 1814, 569-571.


Published in: on August 13, 2012 at 1:49 am  Comments Off on “ A Lost Opportunity”: Colonel Jacint Laval & the U.S. Light Dragoons at Bladensburg, August 1814.